Induction and down-regulation of PLK, a human serine/threonine kinase expressed in proliferating cells and tumors.
We have identified the nucleotide sequence of the cDNA encoding the human counterpart of the mouse gene Plk (polo-like kinase). The sequence of the human gene, PLK, predicts a serine/threonine kinase of 603 aa. Expression of PLK mRNA appeared to be strongly correlated with the mitotic activity of cells. Resting peripheral lymphocytes did not express the gene at all. When primary T cells were activated by phytohemagglutinin, a high level of PLK transcripts resulted within 2-3 days. In some cases, addition of interleukin 2 to these cells increased the expression of PLK mRNA further. In contrast, primary cultures of human peripheral macrophages, which were not dividing under the culture conditions applied, showed very little or no PLK mRNA. Stimulation of these cells by bacterial lipopolysaccharide, an inducer of several cytokines in macrophages, totally abrogated the expression of PLK mRNA. In line with a function of PLK mRNA expression in mitotically active cells is our finding that six immortalized cell lines examined expressed the gene. In A-431 epidermoid carcinoma cells this expression was down-regulated by serum starvation and enhanced after serum was added again. Tumors of various origin (lung, colon, stomach, smooth muscle, and esophagus as well as non-Hodgkin lymphomas) expressed high levels of PLK transcripts in about 80% of the samples studied, whereas PLK mRNA was absent in surrounding tissue, except for colon. The only normal tissues where PLK mRNA expression was observed were colon and placenta, both known to be mitotically active. No PLK transcripts were found in normal adult lung, brain, heart, liver, kidney, skeletal muscle, and pancreas. In Northern blot experiments with RNA from lymphocytes which were treated with phytohemagglutinin and cycloheximide, PLK transcripts were not detectable, suggesting that PLK is not an early growth-response gene.